Thoughts on hacking aromanticism?

Sev­eral years ago, Ali­corn wrote an ar­ti­cle about how she hacked her­self to be polyamorous. I’m in­ter­ested in meth­ods for hack­ing my­self to be aro­man­tic. I’ve had some suc­cess with this, so I’ll share what’s worked for me, but I’m re­ally hop­ing you all will chime in with your ideas in the com­ments.

Motivation

Why would some­one want to be aro­man­tic? There’s the ob­vi­ous time com­mit­ment in­volved in ro­mance, which can be con­sid­er­able. This is an es­pe­cially large drain if you’re in a situ­a­tion where find­ing suit­able part­ners is difficult, which means most of this time is spent en­dur­ing dis­ap­point­ment (e.g. if you’re het­ero­sex­ual and the bal­ance of sin­gles in your com­mu­nity is un­fa­vor­able).

But I think an even bet­ter way to mo­ti­vate aro­man­ti­cism is by refer­ring you to this Paul Gra­ham es­say, The Top Idea in Your Mind. To be effec­tive at ac­com­plish­ing your goals, you’d like to have your goals be the most in­ter­est­ing thing you have to think about. I find it’s far too easy for my love life to be­come the most in­ter­est­ing thing I have to think about, for ob­vi­ous rea­sons.

Subproblems

After think­ing some, I came up with a list of 4 goals peo­ple try to achieve through en­gag­ing in ro­mance:

  1. Com­pan­ion­ship.

  2. Sex­ual plea­sure.

  3. In­fat­u­a­tion (also known as new re­la­tion­ship en­ergy).

  4. Val­i­da­tion. This one is trick­ier than the pre­vi­ous three, but I think it’s ar­guably the most im­por­tant. Many un­happy sin­gles have friends they are close to, and know how to mas­tur­bate, but they still feel lousy in a way peo­ple in post-in­fat­u­a­tion re­la­tion­ships do not. What’s go­ing on? I think it’s best de­scribed as a sort of ro­man­tic in­se­cu­rity. To test this out, imag­ine a time when some­one you were in­ter­ested in was smil­ing at you, and con­trast that with the feel­ing of some­one you were in­ter­ested in turn­ing you down. You don’t have to ex­pe­rience com­pan­ion­ship or sex­ual plea­sure from these in­ter­ac­tions for them to have a ma­jor im­pact on your “ro­man­tic self-es­teem”. And in a cul­ture where sin­gle­hood is con­sid­ered a failure, it’s nat­u­ral for your “ro­man­tic self-es­teem” to take a hit if you’re sin­gle.

To re­move the need for ro­mance, it makes sense to find quicker and less dis­tract­ing ways to achieve each of these 4 goals. So I’ll treat each goal as a sub­prob­lem and brain­storm ideas for solv­ing it. Subprob­lems 1 through 3 all seem pretty easy to solve:

  1. Com­pan­ion­ship: Make deep friend­ships with peo­ple you’re not in­ter­ested in ro­man­ti­cally. I recom­mend pay­ing spe­cial at­ten­tion to your cowork­ers and house­mates, since you spend so much time with them.

  2. Sex­ual plea­sure: Hope­fully you already have some ideas on plea­sur­ing your­self.

  3. In­fat­u­a­tion: I see this as more of a bonus than a need to be met. There are lots of ways to find in­spira­tion, ex­cite­ment, and mean­ing in life out­side of ro­mance.

Subprob­lem 4 seems trick­iest.

Hack­ing Ro­man­tic Self-Esteem

I’ll note that what I’m de­scribing as “val­i­da­tion” or “ro­man­tic self-es­teem” seems closely re­lated to abun­dance mind­set. But I think it’s use­ful to keep them con­cep­tu­ally dis­tinct. Although aliev­ing that there are many peo­ple you could date is one way to boost your ro­man­tic self-es­teem, it’s not nec­es­sar­ily the only strat­egy.

The most im­por­tant thing to keep in mind about your ro­man­tic self-es­teem is that it’s heav­ily af­fected by the availa­bil­ity heuris­tic. If I was en­couraged by some­one in 2015, that won’t do much to as­suage the sting of dis­cour­age­ment in 2016, ex­cept maybe if it hap­pens to come to mind.

Another clue is the idea of a sex­ual “dry spell”. Dry spells are sup­posed to get worse the longer they go on… which sim­ply means that if your mind doesn’t have a re­cent (available!) in­ci­dent of suc­cess to latch on, you’re more likely to feel down.

So to in­crease your ro­man­tic self-es­teem, keep a cher­ished list of thoughts sug­gest­ing your de­sir­a­bil­ity is high, and don’t worry too much about thoughts sug­gest­ing your de­sir­a­bil­ity is low. Here’s a free­bie: If you’re read­ing this post, it’s likely that you are (or will be) quite rich by global stan­dards. I hear rich peo­ple are con­sid­ered at­trac­tive. Put it on your list!

Other ideas for rais­ing your ro­man­tic self-es­teem:

  • Take steps to main­tain your phys­i­cal ap­pear­ance, so you will ap­pear marginally more de­sir­able to your­self when you see your­self in the mir­ror.

  • Re­mind your­self that you’re not a vic­tim if you’re mak­ing a con­scious choice to pri­ori­tize other as­pects of your life. Point out to your­self things you could be do­ing to find part­ners that you’re choos­ing not to do.

I think this is a situ­a­tion where pre­ven­tion works bet­ter than cure—it’s best to work pre-emp­tively to keep your ro­man­tic self-es­teem high. In my ex­pe­rience, low ro­man­tic self-es­teem leads to un­pro­duc­tive cop­ing mechanisms like dis­tract­ing my­self from dark thoughts by wast­ing time on the In­ter­net.

The other side of the coin is avoid­ing hits to your ro­man­tic self-es­teem. Here’s an in­ter­est­ing snip­pet from a Quora an­swer I found:

In gen­eral spe­cial­ized con­tem­pla­tive monas­tic or­gani­sa­tions that tend to sep­a­rate from the so­ciety tend to be celi­bate while rit­ual spe­cial­ists within the so­ciety (priests) even if ex­pected to fol­low a higher stan­dard of eth­i­cal and rit­ual pu­rity tend not to be.

So, it seems like it’s eas­ier for het­ero­sex­ual male monks to stay celi­bate if they are iso­lated on a monastery away from women. Without any pos­si­ble part­ners around, there’s no one to re­ject (or dis­tract) them. Par­ti­ci­pat­ing in a monas­tic cul­ture in which long-term sin­gle­hood is con­sid­ered nor­mal & de­sir­able also re­moves a ro­man­tic self-es­teem hit.

Re­treat­ing to a monastery prob­a­bly isn’t prac­ti­cal, but there may be sim­pler things you can do. I re­cently switched from lift­ing weights to run­ning in or­der to get ex­er­cise, and I found that run­ning is bet­ter for my con­cen­tra­tion be­cause I’m not dis­tracted by at­trac­tive peo­ple at the gym.

It’s not sup­posed to be easy

I shared a bunch of ideas in this post. But my over­all im­pres­sion is that in­still­ing aro­man­ti­cism is a very hard prob­lem. Based on my re­search, even monks and priests have a difficult time of things. That’s why I’m cu­ri­ous to hear what the Less Wrong com­mu­nity can come up with. Side note: when pos­si­ble, please try to make your sug­ges­tions gen­der-neu­tral so we can avoid gen­der-re­lated flame wars. Thanks!